With this new book in the Iowa and the Midwest Experience series, Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf add to their already indispensable legal/historical work relevant to Glaspell’s oeuvre, which began with Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (Chapel Hill, 2005), their exhaustive study of the Margaret Hossack case upon which Glaspell based Trifles / “A Jury of Her Peers”. The Plea: The True Story of Young Wesley Elkins and His Struggle for Redemption tells the story of 11-year-old Wesley’s crime in Iowa in 1889—the murder of his abusive father and stepmother—and his incarceration as a child in an adult prison. During the next twelve years, he educated himself, argued eloquently for his release, and won the support of prison wardens, educators, newspaper editors, and politicians. For Bryan and Wolf, it is a story of heroic perseverance and an exploration of the social, political, and legal systems of the era.
Bryan and Wolf’s research continues to be an invaluable resource for Glaspell scholars. As a young reporter, Glaspell took an interest in youthful offenders, covering the Mitchellville Girls School riot of 1899 and, four years later, she wrote “In the Face of His Constituents,” based on the case of Wesley Elkins. When Glaspell included the story in her 1912 collection, Lifted Masks, she retitled it “The Plea.” In this book, Bryan and Wolf devote part of a chapter to Glaspell’s reporting on the Mitchellville riot, and a full chapter to her fictional portrayal of the legislative debate over Wesley’s release from prison.
“The Plea is not just an impeccable piece of historical scholarship, but a gripping work of narrative nonfiction. Devoid of any taint of sensationalism, the book vividly reconstructs the fascinating, long-forgotten case of an eleven-year-old committing parricide, the boy’s long struggle to rehabilitate himself, and his ultimate redemption. An immensely readable and thought-provoking book—one with particular relevance in our own age of increasing juvenile homicides—it will captivate both American history buffs and fans of true crime.”—Harold Schechter, author